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Primary quip leads to TV gig for lawmaker; 'Daily Show' recruits Hardwick for sketch

After County Legislator Kevin R. Hardwick supplied one of his trademark pithy comments to the Politics Column of The Buffalo News on April 15 -- the one about today's New York Republican primary amounting to a big nothing after Mitt Romney all but wrapped up the nomination -- he thought that was the end of it.

But that wasn't the end of it after producers of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" read the column. The wildly popular show flew Hardwick to New York City, where he spent all of Sunday filming a sketch fantasizing about what would happen if a New York State primary really did matter.

The result is one of those crazy "Daily Show" skits starring Samantha Bee, John Oliver and a host of other regulars on the show -- as well as the City of Tonawanda Republican who is also an associate professor of political science at Canisius College. And it all stemmed from Hardwick's quote in The News ("It's like being next in line for concert tickets when the ticket window closes") bemoaning New York's also-ran status in the primaries.

"They saw the quote, and last Wednesday the producer called and said I was their guy," Hardwick said Monday. "They didn't want an actor; they wanted somebody who actually felt these things.

"It's all about how it's not fair and not right that New York -- the third-largest state in the country and not some little Iowa -- doesn't matter," he added. "That, in a humorous way, is the point."

Indeed, today's primary at one point in the campaign season potentially loomed as an extremely big eal. That's back when GOP hopefuls Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich were showing real signs of knocking off the front-running Romney. But as both cooled and their prospects dimmed, so did the importance of the Republican primary in a major state like New York.

"There certainly is the expectation that people might not come out," Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy said Monday. "Save for Newt Gingrich visiting here on Friday, people are now focused on the general election."

But for Hardwick, a Santorum supporter, the "Who cares?" status of today's primary turned out to be the experience of a lifetime. The show housed him in a Manhattan hotel Saturday night, then early on Sunday morning the cast kicked off 13 hours of filming in "The Daily Show" studios, a midtown diner and a YMCA visit at West 63rd Street and Central Park West.

"It's all about me wishing -- like Jimmy Stewart in 'It's a Wonderful Life' -- that New York mattered," Hardwick said, explaining the sketch is built around a similar fantasy. After he gets his wish, a far different scenario ensues on Primary Day than the shrugged shoulders of most Republicans today.

Soledad O'Brien gets in on the act, he said, as the CNN anchor took part in Sunday's filming, too. And what follows includes the typical edgy look at national politics featured each night on "The Daily Show." Watch for "Naked Gun" type sight gags, frenzied parodies of New York's zealous press corps, and an "over the top" takeoff on the negative ads that "might have been," Hardwick said.

The professor added he got kind of caught up in the moment, and began ad libbing his own one-liners he's so often rattled off on the floor of the Legislature or on the political radio show he once hosted on WBEN. That's when "The Daily Show" producers explained a few things to their new star.

"They took me aside and said: 'Listen, don't try to be funny,' " he admitted. "That was a little humbling."

The show is slated to air at 11 p.m. today, and again at 9:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Wednesday. Hardwick acknowledges his role as "Daily Show" straight man provided him with a big time thrill.

"It really was a dream come true," he said.

And for the record, the Republican presidential primary does, indeed, take place today. All regular polling places in Erie County are open, according to the Board of Elections. Polls will be open in Erie County from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., and from noon to 9 p.m. in all other upstate counties.